On our trip to Utah, I made a point of drawing daily. But my real goal was to journal about the natural world. Inspired by The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, I made an effort to more closely observe my surroundings and to ask questions about what I saw. I found myself looking around for the answers as well.

For example, while hiking along the bottom of White Canyon, I noticed light blue marks high up on the canyon wall. They looked like someone had poured paint on the rocks but they couldn’t be paint. We were in the middle of Natural Bridges National Monument. What was the source of those strange marks? Something leaching out of the cliff face?

Red rock canyon wall with light blue runoff marks and lines of shrubs. Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Mysterious blue marks on the wall at White Canyon, UT. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

The Mystery of the Blue Marks on the Canyon Wall haunted me because I was already in an exploratory frame of mind. I jotted down my question in my journal, and it became one of the things I thought about throughout my trip.

As a result, the “blue paint” question was in my mind when we returned to Natural Bridges three days later. While hiking around the base of Owachomo Bridge, I noticed some blue-gray rocks. Maybe the marks we had seen were minerals leaching out of a hidden blue-gray layer.

Blue-gray rocks scattered across a red dirt ground. Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Blue-gray rocks in White Canyon, UT. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

Then we came across silver-blue lichen. From just a few feet away, it looked sky blue. Could it be what I’d seen on the canyon walls?

Close up shot of silver blue lichen on a peach and black rock. Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Silvery-blue lichen. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

Then I came across a place where water clearly drains off a rock. The path the water follows was full of the the lichen I’d seen. My question was answered.

Run off track in yellow and red sandstone with silver-blue lichen in it. Photo by Kit Dunsmore
Run-off track on rock bordered by silver-blue lichen. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

Without climbing up the canyon walls for a closer look, I have no way of being certain that those sky blue streaks were made by lichen, but I’m pretty sure that they were. I was pleased to have solved a mystery all on my own, just be keeping my eyes open and asking questions.

Nature journal page with colored pencil drawings of lichen on rocks. Artwork and photo by Kit Dunsmore
One of my journal pages about the Blue Marks Mystery. (Photo by Kit Dunsmore)

In the past, I would have wondered about the blue marks, but I don’t think I’d have been looking so hard for an answer. The “blue paint” would have been on my mind during the first visit, but I probably would have forgotten about it by the second one.

Nature journaling was what kept the question in my mind and inspired me to keep my eyes open. It helped me to think actively about what I was seeing, and my memories of our trip to Utah are much richer as a result.

Have you solved a nature mystery with your nature journal? How has nature journaling changed your understanding of the world?

6 thoughts on “How Nature Journaling Inspired Me To Solve A Mystery”

    1. Thanks! It’s really John Muir Laws’ idea. His book is full of great suggestions for how to go about nature journaling, how to ask questions, etc. Also he has some great lecture videos on YouTube.

  1. Very cool! A lot of time we ask questions in our nature journals that we cannot answer but this is a good example of asking one that you can anwer yourself through investigation and careful observations. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! I was really pleased to come to closure with this one. I’ve got plenty of questions I haven’t answered… Like what is the name of the lichen? I don’t suppose there are lichen field guides…?

    1. I love it. So excited to have so many things I am interested come together into one place: nature, drawing, writing, being outside. Can’t beat it!

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